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War Relics
in the “Valley of Heart’s Delight”
In early 2008, two Palo Alto park rangers patrolling a closed area of PearsonArastradero Preserve found a 75mm artillery shell lying next to a deer trail;
bomb experts from Travis Air Force Base came down and exploded the shell in
place. During the spring of 1990, a ranger found the nose cone of an artillery
shell which had been exposed by a tractor disk elsewhere in Pearson-Arastradero
Preserve. In the early 1970s, a visitor to Foothills Park found several marblesized lead balls exposed by recent rains in a park hillside. In 1965, a worker
clearing Stanford land for the construction of the children’s hospital found a
three-inch diameter rubber plug. Embossed in the plug were the words
In the early years of this century, a community of more than 40,000 existed in
what is now part of Menlo Park. The impact of that community on the area at the
time can be judged by its size as compared to its neighbors. Menlo Park had a
population of 2,700. Palo Alto had about 5,000 inhabitants.
How can a community of this size, located next door, have disappeared, leaving
almost no trace of its existence? Why was it here?
In 1917, the U.S. War Department leased 25,000 acres of land in and around
Menlo Park to establish a World War I military training center called Camp
Fremont. Troops were trained here to fight on the Western Front in France. The
camp covered two square miles and was located just the other side of San
Francisquito Creek from Palo Alto. It extended to Valparaiso Avenue on the
north, to El Camino Real on the east, to Alameda de las Pulgas on the west.
At a construction cost of $1.9 million, the camp included 12 miles of road, 52
miles of electrical lines, 1000 wooden buildings and 10,000 tents. Facilities
included a recreation center, church, theater and post office. It was a small, selfcontained city. Menlo Park, which then consisted of only a few square blocks,
was engulfed by the camp.
Training for the camp’s occupants consisted of marksmanship, light artillery fire,
trench construction, hand grenade and bayonet drills, boxing, and gas warfare
protection. Rifle practice was done in the empty field on the southwest comer of Foothills Expressway and Page Mill
Road. The dirt bank on which targets were mounted can still be seen there. Light artillery training was done in and around
War Relics
in the “Valley of Heart’s Delight”
the area that has become Foothills Park and Pearson-Arastradero Preserve. Since that time, evidence of artillery activity
has been found in several locations.
What was it like for Camp Fremont residents to live in our area in 1917-18? The San Francisco peninsula was a much
different place then. Towns were small with their own identity. There were miles of open space between each community.
El Camino Real was a beautiful, quiet, tree-lined road. Much of the land was in orchards and in the spring it was
impossible to escape the scent of blossoms. The kind of place the San Francisco peninsula used to be is reflected in the
title of a film made in 1921 by a San Jose Realtor to promote the area. The title of the film was “The Valley of The Heart's
Delight.” Believe it or not, in those days San Franciscans used to come to Palo Alto and Menlo Park to vacation and “get
away from it all.”
Local townspeople went all out to support the troops at Camp Fremont. Social events included a military rodeo and a
patriotic songfest. The songfest was held at Stanford and was attended by 10,000 soldiers and 15,000 civilians spectators.
It included a band and marching competition as well as a patriotic community sing.
In March of 1918, Russia, in the midst of a civil war, made peace with
Germany. The other Allied countries, including the United States, sent
troops to Russia to keep tons of war materials out of German hands. Some of
the Allies also hoped these troops could somehow be used to put a
government in power and restore the Russian war effort against Germany.
Five thousand troops from Camp Fremont shipped out via San Francisco and
arrived in Vladivostock, Siberia in September of 1918. These men were to
spend almost two years living in miserable conditions in box cars. They
guarded supplies which had been left out in the weather by the Russian
government and so were almost useless.
In November, World War I ended. Camp Fremont was ordered evacuated, and the land returned to the original owners.
Many of the building and unneeded supplies were auctioned off, including the YWCA Hostess House which was bought
for $1.00 by the City of Palo Alto. This building had been used as a meeting place for the troops and their friends and
The building’s architect was Julia Morgan, who was the first woman to earn a certificate in architecture from the
prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and one of the first female architects in the western United States. She was later
to design Hearst Castle.
The Hostess House was moved to its recent site near the train station in 1919. It became the first municipally-sponsored
community center in the U.S. During the 1920s, it was the home of the local “little theater” organizations, as well as the
site for a variety of public activities, programs and meetings. As the community functions shifted to the Lucie Stern
Center in the 1930s, it became a
veteran’s center. By the late 1970s the
building was in such poor condition that
it was almost demolished.
In the early 1980s it was restored to its
original condition and now houses the
local MacArthur Park Restaurant. The
building is California Historical
Landmark #895 and is said to be the
only remaining structure from Camp
Fremont. If you dine there, pretend you
are a World War I soldier or a family
member and look out a window on the
Valley of the Heart’s Delight.
By Jerry Lawrence and Brian Bondurant
Edited by Kathleen Jones
Illustrated by Virginia Kolence
War Relics
in the “Valley of Heart’s Delight”